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While the official Thanksgiving festivities are over, and many are reaching for leftover turkey sandwiches or battling the Black Friday crowds, the spirit of giving thanks has not wholly disappeared. With Giving Tuesday just around the corner, new research from Mintel reveals that a company’s charitable giving affects three-quarters (73%) of Americans’ purchase decisions.

Whether truly altruistic or merely aspirational, the majority (84%) of consumers say it is important to them that a company supports charitable causes, with some willing to take it a step further when corporate giving aligns with their own beliefs. Half (50%) of Americans say that they would switch to a company that supports a cause they believe in, rising to 61% of adult iGeneration consumers (aged 18-23) and Millennials (aged 24-41), respectively.

Today’s consumers carry lofty expectations for charitable and ethical initiatives of the companies and brands they choose to support. Nearly two-thirds believe it is a company’s responsibility to give back (65%) and to have a moral or ethical viewpoint (64%), while around half expect brands to improve the local community (53%) and donate proceeds to charity (49%). When it comes to the environment, although fewer than one in five (16%) Americans say they have donated to environmental causes in the last year*, three in five (59%) expect companies to have environmentally friendly initiatives.

Given the swell of social and political issues driving national conversation, the majority of consumers want companies to speak up and get involved. Less than half (42%) of US consumers believe that companies should stay away from controversial causes, falling to 38% of adult iGens and women, respectively.

“Americans, particularly younger generations, are more attuned to philanthropic activity and aware of the various roles companies have to play in giving back. The vast majority of consumers want to see companies support charitable initiatives, with many caring enough to take it into consideration when they make a purchase. As a result, having some sort of charitable or social responsibility program or partnership is crucial for companies as it can be a differentiating feature among competitors. Our research shows consumers want more visible efforts made by brands that already have these initiatives in place as it gives more credence to the idea that the company actually cares about the cause and is not just donating money,” said Mike Gallinari, Travel and Leisure Analyst at Mintel.

97% of consumers agree it’s important that companies act morally/ethically, up from 76% in 2012.

Ethical brand expectations on the rise over the last six years

The expectation for companies and brands to act ethically has grown over the last six years. Today, nearly all (97%) consumers agree that it is important to them that a company acts morally/ethically, up from three in four (76%) who said the same in 2012**. Consumer support for corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives has truly gone mainstream as 87% of consumers agree that companies should always do the right thing, even if it isn’t required by law, and nearly two-thirds (65%) say they’d stop buying from a brand if it has irresponsible practices.

For many, social responsibility can boost a brand’s image as consumers believe companies with CSR initiatives have higher quality products (82%), are changing things for the better (73%) and genuinely care (65%). However, some have their suspicions as just under half (45%) agree they are skeptical of brands’ social responsibility initiatives and one-third (35%) think companies with CSR programs do so just to look good.

“Given today’s divisive political climate, consumers want to know that they share consistent values with the companies they buy from. As a result, CSR programs have grown far beyond token charitable initiatives and, in some cases, are completely reshaping how companies do business,” continued Dana Macke, Associate Director, Lifestyles and Leisure, at Mintel. “As there will always be skeptical consumers out there, brands must ensure initiatives come from a place of authenticity by aligning programs with their products and core mission. Brands can show real effort and true progress by creating quantifiable goals. Companies like Pepsi, which is improving the nutritional profile of many of its products, and IKEA, which pledged to use only renewed or recycled materials by 2030, are some examples of cohesive CSR strategies already in place. Being transparent and seeking authentication from reliable third parties can also help lend credibility to a company’s efforts.”

62% of adult iGens say products from socially responsible companies are worth paying more for.

iGens focus spending on socially responsible brands

America’s youngest consumers are putting their money where their morals are when it comes to supporting charitable brands. In fact, adult iGens are the most likely generation to say that they often or always make purchases based off a brand’s reputation for ethical business practices (59% vs 46% overall). In addition to impacting their purchasing decisions, 62% of adult iGens go so far as to say that a product from a socially responsible company is worth paying more for, compared to 51% of consumers overall.

“Companies need to position themselves as agents of positive change if they want to build affinity with the emerging iGeneration. As this group is the most likely to make purchasing decisions based on brands’ ethical practices, tapping into this generation’s sense of social activism by communicating company values effectively is one way for brands to align themselves with the iGeneration early on while they’re still establishing buying habits. Companies that can successfully connect with these younger consumers now may be able to build lifelong brand loyalties,” concluded Macke.

*In the 12 months leading to April 2018.
**In 2012, 76% of US consumers agreed with the statement that “it is important that a company acts ethically.”

Press copies of Mintel’s Cause Marketing US 2018 and Attitudes Toward Corporate Social Responsibility US 2018 reports, as well as interviews with Mike Gallinari, Travel and Leisure Analyst, and Dana Macke, Associate Director, Lifestyles and Leisure, are available on request from the press office.